As we know, almost all of Massechet Yevamot is about relationships, and specifically, the closeness or distance of relationships that demand or forbid the fulfilment of Yibum or Halitzah.
However, today’s daf (Yevamot 19b) contains an altogether different conversation about relationships. Specifically, what is the relationship of ma’amar – which is the rabbinically demanded ceremony that occurs between a (male) yavam and a female (yevama) – to the mitzvah of yibum vrs its relationship with the mitzvah of marriage?
Put differently, is ma’amar an added layer to the mitzvah of yibum which looks like a marriage ceremony (which is the opinion of Rebbi)? Or is it a marriage ceremony that is appended to the mitzvah of yibum (which is the opinion of the Sages)?
The implications of this distinction are manifold, but just to make mention of one of them as recorded by Rav Soloveitchik (see Reshimot Shiurim on Yevamot 19b), if ma’amar is an added layer to the mitzvah of yibum which looks like a marriage ceremony, then witnesses may not be required for a ma’amar ceremony. However, if ma’amar is a marriage ceremony that is appended to the mitzvah of yibum, then witnesses would be required. Significantly, both the Rambam (Hilchot Yibum V’Halitzah 2:1) and the Rema’s gloss to the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 166:2) make it clear that witnesses are required, and in doing so, affirm the fact that we rule in accordance with the Sages.
As previously mentioned (in my commentary to Yevamot 8 – see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/yevamot-8/), the demand for a formal ceremony to concretise the mitzvah of yibum was instituted by Rav Huna (see Yevamot 52a) which thereby added various extra safeguards to prevent the possibility that the mitzvah of yibum be abused.
True, yibum is a complex and, for many, a hard mitzvah to understand. Still, by requiring ma’amar, our Sages shifted the location of yibum on the halachic landscape, and in doing so, brought the relationship between Yibum and marriage somewhat closer.